A NSW Health report has concluded that COVID-19 has limited transmissibility between students, and from students to teachers. Picture: iStock
A NSW Health report has concluded that COVID-19 has limited transmissibility between students, and from students to teachers. Picture: iStock

Why kids are OK to go back to school

A NSW Health report has concluded that COVID-19 has limited transmissibility between students, and from students to teachers.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy cited the report on Friday at a press conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who stressed that schools were an exception to social distancing measures.

The report was carried out by NSW Health's Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), and tracked the spread of 18 cases, including nine teachers and nine students, across 15 schools.

The non-peer-reviewed study analysed the tests of 863 close contacts of the infections, interactions which occurred between early March and April 21.

"Our investigation found no evidence of children infecting teachers," said NCIRS director Professor Kristine Macartney. "One secondary case was presumed to have been infected following close contact with two student cases."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly stressed that teachers face a greater risk in the staffroom than the classroom.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly stressed that teachers face a greater risk in the staffroom than the classroom.

 

Mr Morrison has repeatedly stressed that teachers face a greater risk in the staffroom than the classroom.

At a press conference last week, he said National Cabinet did not believe the same social distancing measures are required of children because only small numbers of children contract COVID. As a result, the risk is lower, but social distancing would be enforced between adults and teachers.

"The four square metre rule, and the 1.5m distancing between students during classroom activities is not appropriate and not required. I can't be more clear than that. The advice cannot be more clear than that," he said.

"The 1.5m in classrooms and the four square metre rule is not a requirement of the expert medical advice in classrooms, and their families can feel safe in going back to work, and to ensure that there are important principles in place.

"There are protocols and procedures that, should a COVID case present in a workplace, then the rules that people need to follow."

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the consistent evidence on schools was that it was safe for children to attend classes.

"We are not seeing evidence of significant transmission amongst children in schools. And the data is increasing in this space," he said.

"New South Wales Health have just done a very large study looking at some infections that have occurred in the school setting and have tested a lot of children, have not found evidence that children are transmitting this virus in schools. This is quite different from influenza, where we know they are sometimes super spreaders and can spread the virus.

"So, we think the community risk of having children together in a classroom is low. Most children who have contracted the virus in Australia have contracted it in the family home. They have not contracted it in the school environment.

"Clearly, school can be a risk for adult-to-adult transmission, from parent to teacher, teacher to teacher, and we have made a range of recommendations of keeping vulnerable teachers out of the school environment, practising good distancing in the staffroom."

"It is notable that half of the initial cases that occurred in schools were in staff. This is consistent with the higher rate of COVID-19 seen in adults than in children," Professor Macartney concludes.

"It is also important for all adults, including teachers, to follow the social-distancing practices while at school and in the community."



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